Collaboration is fashion’s new normal, but few moments of brand synergy are as compelling as Dapper Dan’s partnership with the Gap. Two of American fashion’s most recognisable entities, the Harlem fashion legend and the San Francisco-based mall staple represent opposite ends of the style spectrum. Still, they’ve united for a limited edition hoodie that reimagines the classic Gap campus sweatshirt.
The man who created the template for hip-hop style by outfitting rap stars in custom pieces that utilised the logos of luxury houses, Dap is the right person to remix Gap’s signatures. He also knew that joining forces with the retailer was a powerful opportunity. “The Gap represents accessible style; everyone can be a part of it while still being themselves,” Dap shared via Zoom from Harlem. “I still remember my first pair of khakis and how I used to starch them, but you can [also] find a farmer in the most remote part of the country who knows what the Gap is, so it’s a big deal to be a part of this distinctly American thing.”
The original beyond-basics store, Gap has helped set the tone of mass-market fashion for more than five decades. Before retailers like Everlane and Uniqlo were offering no-fuss, minimalist workwear, they were busy outfitting the world with khakis and T-shirts. Their global reach even helped to boost other brands. “This moment is a bit like history repeating itself, because I remember when LL Cool J was in the Gap ads wearing his FUBU hat,” Dap says of the 1999 campaign featuring the rap star in a baseball cap from Damon John’s label. “That was the moment that put FUBU on the map in the mainstream and allowed them to become a marketable name.”
That merger of hip hop swagger and classic American style informed how Dap wanted to be styled for the campaign. Known for his impeccable wardrobe of tailored suiting, he needed his switch to casual fare to be every bit as eye-catching. “In the design, you think, ‘how can we take the hoodie to another place?’” he explains. “I’m a swag man, so I had to take it upscale and put on an ascot!” An item that can have negative connotations, Dap wanted his sweatshirt to represent elevated style. “My vision was about de-stigmatising the hoodie,” he says. “At certain points in history, it’s been used to represent the dark side of our culture, so this was presenting it in a way that shows you can wear this and be fly, be international, and elegant.”
Tapped to pose alongside stars like Shalom Harlow, poet Kai-Isaiah Jamal, and musicians the Spearman Brothers, Dap was interested in highlighting the messaging behind the campaign. “When I got to the set, I realised that this was where I needed to be,” he says. “The atmosphere was so spontaneous, and you could see that Gap was bringing people together to introduce these themes of not only diversity and inclusion, but also the importance of individuality.” The spirited vibe during the shoot was also a plus. “I like to engage with everyone and feel them out, and the people were just amazing,” says Dap. “Everyone was excited to be there and have a part in delivering this message.”
With the campaign hanging in the centre of Times Square, those messages are impossible to miss. They make Dap fondly remember his Gucci ads in the windows of the brand’s 55th street flagship, adjacent to Trump Tower. The images of Black prosperity on display presented a direct opposition to the former president’s ideology. “[At the time], the streets were blocked off, but there were people who jumped the barricades to take a picture of themselves with me there in the window,” he says. “The Gap ads on 42nd street are huge; people pose in front of them with their kids. That’s so meaningful [because] each picture creates a memory and tells a story.”
As with every project he undertakes, Dap hopes that his Gap collaboration reflects and honours Black culture. “Here in Harlem, 125th street is the centre of our cultural world, but 42nd is the centre of the universe,” he says. “With Gap, we’re bringing those streets together. I hope that all the young guys who don’t get to come uptown and get a suit from me can look up in Times Square and see themselves on that sign.”